Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Unsettling Stomach Lurch of Teacher Branding

Recently eduawesome Refranz Davis shared this recent post she wrote on her thoughts of the need to be "visually appealing" as an female edtech speaker. Refranz has been a champion for the underdog and I admire her for it. She posted the above post on Facebook and a few of us edtech women jumped on it and ran with the idea of "branding." Refranz quickly said that wasn't the direction she was going with the post, which we understood, but I find it interesting how quickly the three of us found the connection to branding.

I just googled "teacher branding" and in .36 seconds 13.8 million results came lie. What is teacher branding? To put it succinctly it is marketing yourself, your skills, your knowledge as an educator in a way that establishes a positive presence in the minds of others.

The idea of needing to brand oneself as an educator makes me feel uneasy. During Christmas break I shared that fact in a Twitter chat with a tweet something like this: "I struggle with the fact that edus feel they must brand themselves to be heard. We all have value." I was amazed at the number of people that this resonated with. I am realizing this statement rings true to a many in the educational community.

I then found myself digging deeper into the thought of branding. What bothers me about it? What good things come from it? And I will be honest, my t-account of debits and credits felt fairly equal. The pros: It allows an educator that's doing great things to have a larger and louder voice. It potentially opens up another form of income for these educators in leading professional development opportunities or having the ability to be an edtech speaker. Branding makes the school system these people come from look like an innovative thinking school. Branding actually leads to giving credit where credit is due in a world of easy Internet searches.

So why does it cause an unsettling lurch in my stomach? Truthfully, I struggle with the vanity of it. I struggle with the need to put myself out there to receive accolades before I am seen as a valuable educator. I struggle with the way some educators are doing this. I struggle with the idea of becoming an "ambassador" of any app/group/ website because I worry it dilutes my appearance of being unbiased in the field of education.  Over Christmas break I was on the phone with Ditch That Textbook author Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) and I shared my concerns. I appreciate Matt's humble heart and what he said resonated with me. In my words, not his...he basically said he agreed. He said he finds it important to focus on the things he wants to share in his branding approach, not on himself. I get that. Hence the hashtag #ditchbook not #jmattmiller.  I also understand that if an educator is going to put forth the time, effort, and expense to write a book, create a website, start a learning curriculum, speak at conferences that it comes at a price. We give up something in order to do this. It might be family time, coaching opportunities, vacations, etc but everything we choose comes at a price.

I find it interesting that before I was added to the 2015 list of top 50 k-12 I.T. blogs by Edtech Magazine, I was just Julie- tech coach/coordinator in a private school in Chattanooga, Tennessee doing her best day by day. I'm not saying I am a different person but I am amazed by the validation that simple list seems to have given me in some circles. I'll be honest, it was one of my most amazing honors since becoming an educator. But I leave you with this... I don't think there is a correlation between Twitter followers and great educators. I don't think there is much of a correlation between a dynamic public speaker and an Edtech guru. I don't think that just because someone is published they are a better educator from those that are working day in and day out in their classroom to do what is best for their students.

I'm not saying don't value and follow these great Edtech names on social media, all I am saying is make sure you are also listening to the quiet guy, the twitterer with 100 followers, the voices that ask the questions that make the rest of us ponder. Do not be pulled into the power of branding because someone is selling themselves well. A rude educator is a rude educator with or without their own website. There is value in all of us. I strive to remind myself of this everyday.